Indonesia confirmed its first human deaths from bird flu Wednesday after a man and his two daughters died, bringing Asia's toll from the disease to at least 57 people.
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told reporters that lab tests from Hong Kong showed the 38-year-old man and his two young girls, who died days apart earlier this month, had the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Though there is no evidence yet that the family from a Jakarta suburb had contact with infected poultry, Supari said human-to-human transmission of the disease appeared unlikely at this stage. The virus strain that killed them had not mutated to ease such transmission, she said.
"I don't think we have to worry about that now," she said.
Bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003. Tens of millions of chickens have either died or been slaughtered. Bird flu has killed 38 people in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand, four in Cambodia, and now three in Indonesia.
Experts say most of the deaths so far have resulted from an animal passing the virus to a human. But WHO has long cautioned that the virus could mutate to allow easy transmission from person to person, which could cause it to spread rapidly around the world.
Dr. Georg Petersen, a WHO representative in Indonesia, said it appeared to be good news that the virus found was the H5N1 strain of bird flu, not a new form.
While it was too early to rule out human-to-human transmission, Petersen said he was not too concerned that the three victims had no known contact with sick birds.
"We know the source of infection is very often very hard to find, at least immediately," he said, adding that a more thorough investigation was needed.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono earlier this week vowed transparency in dealing with Indonesia's outbreak, and the agriculture ministry said it has already taken steps to curtail the disease's spread.
Farms near the family's home were being tested for bird flu, and Agriculture Minister Anton Ariyantono said if any positive cases were found all birds and pigs within a three kilometer (two miles) radius of the infection would be culled. The ministry was also barring animal traffic in the area around Tangerang, just west of Jakarta, he said.